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Indian Missile Test Ups The Pressure on A Jumpy Beijing

North Korea’s recent attempt at testing a long-range missile may have ended in embarrassment, but India has been been more fortunate. On Thursday, India tested a long-range, nuclear-capable missile with the ability to hit major Chinese cities such as Beijing and Shanghai. According to AJC the test was a success, and New Delhi is now planning to add more of these missiles to its regular arsenal over the next three years.

This is a big step for India, and an even bigger step in the development of the Great Game in Asia. While India has always been one of the region’s strongest military powers, it has lagged far behind China, as its military outlook has been focused instead on dealing with a much weaker Pakistan. Pakistan’s continuing decline has changed that calculation; Pakistan is a great power in the realm of terror, but its conventional forces are not an offensive threat to India and strategically speaking, the greatest danger Pakistan poses to its neighbor is that its continuing disintegration will unleash forces of chaos and destruction.

Meanwhile, China’s growing economic clout and massive military buildup are refocusing India’s attention on the trans-Himalayan threat. As one Indian defense analyst put it, “While China doesn’t really consider India any kind of a threat or any kind of a rival, India definitely doesn’t think in the same way.”

Meanwhile in Beijing, India’s missile test is just the latest in a long string of bad news. This is a grim spring for Beijing, even if most western commentary has been unable so far to connect the dots. Nothing is going China’s way. Domestically, life stinks. The economy is still showing signs of strain, sporadic rioting continues, and the Bo Xilai drama, which daily brings new and damaging revelations about the way China works is doing nothing to stabilize the country during a time of political transition.

And that’s just at home. Abroad, the consequences of the US repositioning continue to reverberate across the region. Small powers like the Philippines, reassured about American support, are challenging Chinese claims in the South China Sea. Japan is taking a more stridently anti-Chinese line. The defection of Burma from its Chinese connection gains momentum every day as Japan, India, Australia and the EU all join the US in welcoming the junta into the global economy. China’s one remaining ally, North Korea, remains a serious liability as its provocations and threats drive countries like South Korea and Japan closer to Washington.

The combination of internal and external pressure is severe and has the government in Beijing under more pressure than many observers grasp. Abandoning the policy of “peaceful rise” is looking more and more like a grave strategic error; much now depends on what lessons Beijing draws from a humiliating succession of high profile setbacks in Asia.

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  • J R Yankovic

    Let us pray for a rationally, NATIONALLY (not civilizationally) minded Chinese leadership. And in particular the kind that respects neighboring countries’ nationhood and autonomy. Which coming from Beijing may be something on the order of a small miracle, but still . . .

  • Jacksonian Libertarian

    When judging the power of a Nation, most analysts will divide things up into the Hard Power: Military forces, Defense Treaties, Powerful Allies, and the Soft Power: Trust, Culture, Economic strength, and Trade. By this criteria China has Hard Power in a growing military, but without any strong or committed Allies, and a Negative Soft Power in that its neighbors don’t trust it, its culture is backward and unworthy of imitation or adoption, its trading is unfair (piracy is common) with no customer loyalty (in fact China actively threatens its neighbors and biggest customer the US), and a crashing export model economy which will reduce and eventually end military growth. When you compare the power of China vs. India, China’s power will stagnate if not decline in the coming years while India’s will continue to grow.

  • Anthony

    China being potentially Northeast Asian hegemon engenders security fears thus its unlikely rivals (India in this instances) including U.S. view its external and internal developments with anxious concern vis-a-vis power balances. Question for me is: will structural imperatives of international system operating in North and South Asia contain a formidable China?

  • Luke Lea

    “Meanwhile, China’s growing economic clout and massive military buildup are refocusing India’s attention on the trans-Himalayan threat”

    Which would you rather have between your country and China, the Himalayas or the Great Wall?

  • Bart Hall (Kansas, USA)

    Let us not forget India’s indigenous boomers, the Arihant-class, the first of which is likely to be commissioned in 2013. There are at least three more under construction.

    As of next year sometime the only missing piece of a full strategic triad for India will be long-range bombers, and they’ve probably decided that the almost-4,000 km flight to Beijing would have little chance of success compared to missiles. Even the USA are continually downgrading their strategic bomber forces as being out-of-date and somewhat unnecessary.

    Even a handful of Indian boomers will be a successful deterrent to the Chinese because they’ll have to assume at least one of ’em will be in the South China Sea at all times.

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